Today is Nebraskan author Willa Cather’s birthday. Born in 1873, Cather wrote a dozen novels and many collections of stories. Her most famous works were O’ Pioneers! and My Ántonia.
Growing up in Nebraska during my teens, I had a preacher friend who was from her hometown. He revered her, frequently quoting her in Sunday morning sermons and making light of his affection for her, as well Red Cloud, Nebraska, where they were both from. It took me a while to understand why he loved her so much. Since I was 16, I’ve read about eight of her books, and fell in love with a short story collection I owned. I certainly know now why my friend was enamored with her: Willa Cather is awesome.
In The Song of the Lark, Cather wrote, “Success is never so interesting as struggle.” I’ve always found her down-to-earth ways enlightened, and that is why: She never forgot her roots, her people, and her land.
In my own attempts at writing, I’ve struggled with finding a voice that reflects a true sense of purpose and roots for me. Maybe that’s because my roots are so muddled, and because I’ve always sensed the people around me shared that predicament. Whatever the reason, settling into my voice in its uncertainties and inabilities has been part of the gift Willa challenged to me when I was young. It was about being true to oneself and what they understood of the world.
In that same book, The Song of the Lark, Willa wrote, “If you love the good thing vitally, enough to give up for it all that one must give up, then you must hate the cheap thing just as hard. I tell you, there is such a thing as creative hate! A contempt that drives you through fire, makes you risk everything and lose everything, makes you a long sight better than you ever knew you could be.”
Not only was she connected to the land and the people like the roots of the deepest bluestem grasses, she was fully aware of who she was and engaged within herself! This miraculous feat, which seemed so smothered through the late Victorian age where she emerged from, seems spectacular to me.
So, I want to thank Willa Cather for showing me who I can be, out loud for everyone to see. Thank you, and happy birthday.